Catholic Church provokes anger over ethical objections to cloning practices

THE Roman Catholic Church in Scotland prompted an angry reaction from scientists and fellow Christians yesterday when it reiterated its ethical opposition to the current practices used in cloning .

The Church of Scotland and cloning experts both rebuked suggestions by the Catholic Church that the debate over stem cell research had been dominated by economic and medical interests to the detriment of ethical concerns.

Mario Conti, the Archbishop of Glasgow, has been an outspoken critic of cloning and in-vitro fertilisation since being installed as leader of the Glasgow archdiocese last year.

In a briefing at the Catholic media office in Glasgow, a spokesman said the archbishop wanted a public debate on the issue which would be accessible to laymen.

He also accused the Roslin Institute, which created Dolly the sheep, the world's first cloned mammal in 1996, of hiding the true nature of its practices from the public.

Dolly was cloned after 276 attempts had resulted in "miscarriage, stillbirth and deformities", he said.

"If these unsuccessful attempts hadn't been kept out of the public domain, they may well have informed the public view on cloning."

However, Dr Donald Bruce, director of the Church of Scotland's society, religion and technology project, said: "The cloning debate was very much made public at the time, both by us and by the Roslin Institute.

"The Church of Scotland has been very heavily involved in the debate from the outset and the scientists and the Roslin Institute have always made their views clear."

Dr Harry Griffin, assistant director of the Roslin research centre in Midlothian, said the unsuccessful attempts to create Dolly were a "poor example" of cloning failures.

He said that all but 29 attempts had failed before being implanted in surrogate mothers and, of those, none had successfully developed to pregnancy stage.

The Catholic Church also provoked anger by suggesting that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the agency that regulates stem cell research, was dominated by medical experts.

A HFEA spokeswoman said that its membership comprised a majority of non-experts, including Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, who chairs the ethics committee. She denied that licences to conduct research using embryonic stem cells were granted without considering ethical alternatives.